In Case You Missed World Gratitude Day

Tips to train managers to recognize employee achievement and value, and then meaningfully express gratitude.

Did you know there was such a thing as World Gratitude Day? I didn’t. It happened on September 21. I didn’t receive flowers or any other form of gratitude that day. Should I be offended?

It turns out that expressing gratitude in the workplace is important. In some workplaces, even getting a thank you on e-mails is a big ask, so this appears to be an area with significant room for improvement.

Inc. has offered tips for employers looking for ways to express gratitude to employees. Inc. contributor Marcel Schwantes suggests that frequent check-ins with employees can show gratitude. He says these brief exchanges “not only lead to more engaged and productive employees, but also ensure that leadership has a good understanding of how employees are performing and that they’re credited appropriately for that work.”

He says a “recognition culture” also is important. “Building a recognition culture that is authentic and rooted in company values can help leaders achieve results that, in turn, make their businesses more efficient and successful. When leaders root their recognition program in these key tenets, data shows employees are more likely to feel seen, valued, and included,” Schwantes writes.

Avoid “Faint Praise”

It’s important when delivering words and gestures of gratitude and recognition that you’re not delivering the gratitude version of the expression, “damned by faint praise.” I have experienced this type of “gratitude.” Years ago, after many substantive, leadership-oriented achievements, a manager said to me at a conference, “I want to congratulate you on doing well in that meeting.” I was nearly a middle-aged woman at that point, with ample experience, in a mid-level position, not a college intern. It was the kind of recognition that shows the employee just how low your expectations are for them.

Before a manager can show gratitude, they have to understand what they are grateful for. If you have a productive mid-level employee, who has successfully taken the lead on a key business endeavor, congratulate and recognize them for their leadership, not just their productivity. When productivity is called out without considering what that productivity is working toward, the employee is being under-valued.

A good exercise is for managers to reflect on and document what they believe to be the most important, ultimate contribution of each of their employees. They could do this before the employees’ annual performance reviews, so they can discuss these accomplishments during the performance review meetings. By “ultimate” contribution, I mean to consider how the surface contributions of the employee (productivity, for example) contribute to the manager’s big-picture goals for their department. An employee who is great at promptly answering calls from customers and making sure orders are correct and delivered on time is productive and a great workhorse, but more importantly, that person is essential to the business unit’s—and larger organization’s—branding as being a pleasure to do business with. The work that “productive” employee does allows the department and organization to fulfill the value of exceeding customer expectations.

Actions Mean More than Words

Words only go so far in expressing gratitude. How much in resources the organization is willing to devote to each employee provides evidence of gratitude. A competitive salary for an employee who performs at a high level is important. But it’s also important for that employee to see that the organization is open to investing in them in other ways. For example, are they given the opportunity to add a junior employee to work under them? Are funds to travel to industry events given to them at an appropriate level? Does the manager see how important they are, so that it’s understood that if funds are limited, they are an essential person to have at major industry events?

Development opportunities are yet another meaningful, consequential way to show an employee they are valued. Are they so “appreciated” in their current role that they will never be given additional, higher-level opportunities? “They’re so good at what they’re currently doing, why move them?” a manager may reason. The employee may watch others (who may not have performed as well) get higher-level opportunities, and conclude that the words of gratitude expressed by the manager were just that—words.

I’m reminded of the old advice from a biographer I heard once. If you want to know what’s important to a person, and what they truly like, don’t listen to what they say, watch their feet. In expressing gratitude to employees, your words are only as meaningful as your actions.

How do you train managers to recognize employee achievement and value, and then meaningfully express gratitude?